Prediction: changes ahead in financial services … and DigitalMailer will be ready

Try as we might, we humans aren’t very good at predicting what’s next.

  • Alexander Graham Bell packed up his novel telephone and offered it to Western Union, whose president said it was nothing but a toy.
  • Charlie Chaplin saw an early demise of the movie business, dismissing it with, “Cinema is just a fad.”
  • Gary Cooper declined to play Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, laughing, “I’m sure glad it will be Clark Gable falling on his face in that role instead of me.”
  • Decca Records told the Fab Four’s band manager, Brian Epstein, “The Beatles have no future in show business.”
  • And Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO in 2007, was certain there was “no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”

A recent article in Southwest Magazine touched on this subject, noting that our mere mortal emotions and basic needs cloud our decisions about the future. To solve this dilemma, venture capital firm Deep Knowledge Ventures actually appointed a computer algorithm to its board of directors!

But while as a species we often see a skewed view of the future, Ron Daly, DigitalMailer’s Chairman and Founder, nailed it 15 years ago by predicting digital communications tools could help the financial services industry better serve consumers, strengthen relationships and stay competitive.

Digital path to a level playing field

The year was 1999, and Ron envisioned creating an “eStatements” company as his final MBA project at George Washington University.

“Building an eStatements platform was a crazy idea back then,” Ron told the DigitalMailer staff last week. “The Internet was so new, you had to use a dial-up modem … and wait and wait and wait … for the slowest connection you could ever imagine to reach it. But I kept thinking, if we could capture the power of the web, we could create a service that would help financial institutions cut costs by replacing mailed paper statements with those that were electronic. This would be more efficient and deliver information to their customers quicker.”

Ron said that, slow as it was in the early days, “the best part about the Internet will be its ability to truly level the playing field with 24/7 service,” so institutions of all sizes could quickly respond to customers’ needs. He was right. It may seem hard to believe today, but eStatements were a new idea when DigitalMailer got off the ground in 2000! Financial institutions had to shift their thinking, and clients trickled in the first couple of years. By the end of five years, 50 clients had adopted the service. At the 10-year mark, we had 180 clients and delivered a total of 15.9 million eStatements. Now, we average nearly 9 million eStatements a year. And we have 220 clients, reaching 8.6 million consumers.

From snail mail to any-to-any digital channels

Everyone connected with DigitalMailer will always have a soft spot for eStatements – our initial, flagship product. But as technology evolved, so have consumer expectations. We leveraged our capabilities to offer a complete “digital toolbox” with newsletters, preference-based email alerts, and then targeted, one-to-one messages.

Now, customer demands are even higher, given the rapid growth of high-tech tools available to them, and DigitalMailer has moved from provider of several discrete products to the role of “communication enabler.” Today, DigitalMailer acts as a complement to any organized data system, helping clients take advantage of their data-mining programs and variable-field capabilities to create messages directed precisely to customers’ needs and interests. And we’re helping them reach consumers in any channel they want – online banking, mobile, ATMs, email, text or voice – where they can move seamlessly from one device to another while experiencing a consistent communication experience.

So, what will the next 15 years bring? As Ron said, “Since DigitalMailer’s start, we’ve helped the marketplace transition from paper to electronic communications. Now we’re helping the marketplace transition from electronic to this crazy new thing called ‘mobile.’ Beyond that, we need to be ready for even more advanced communication and connection technology.”

I’ll add that we need to take our own advice: Keep options open. Listen to our clients, and don’t get comfortable. Change comes fast, and I predict we’d better stay nimble to meet it.